CIRI shareholders seek dividend

Posted: Thursday, June 12, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Shareholders have told Cook Inlet Regional Inc. to hand out $63 million in special dividends.

By a more than 2-to-1 margin and over the objections of CIRI's leadership, the company's owners voted in a corporate election Saturday for $10,000 each for the average shareholder.

The vote was advisory but sent a strong message that the board of the Anchorage-based Native corporation is likely to heed.

''We'll try to accommodate them as best we can,'' said William Prosser, chairman emeritus and head of the board's finance and investment committee.

Roy Huhndorf, a dissident board member and former CIRI president, predicted that Alaska's most profitable Native corporation will reluctantly hand over the money.

''My guess is, they'll do something,'' said Huhndorf, who was instrumental in pushing the dividend.

The distribution would be part of settling long-standing disputes between CIRI's management, the majority on the board and dissidents, Huhndorf said.

If the board approves the payout, it would mark the second big windfall for CIRI's roughly 7,000 shareholders in three years. The company gave its shareholders $488 million in 2000 and 2001. Two checks totaling $65,000 were issued to every CIRI shareholder with 100 shares. The checks came on top of CIRI's normal quarterly dividends. Later this month, most shareholders will receive second-quarter payments of $700.

CIRI's top managers and most directors urged shareholders to vote down the special dividend. Although CIRI has about $425 million in cash, stocks and bonds on hand, the firm needs that reserve as seed money for new investments, company officials said. It also has to pay corporate income taxes and fund a newly created elders trust, they said.

A $63 million payment amounts to a partial liquidation of the company and could make CIRI look bad in the eyes of business partners and banks, the company said in its election material.

Prosser said the vote did not surprise him. Unlike investors in publicly traded companies, Alaska Natives cannot sell their stock so they rely more on dividends than regular stockholders, he said.

''We're a source of cash. They vote with their pocketbooks,'' he said.

A coalition of CIRI's critics, called the Alliance for the Future of CIRI, orchestrated the special dividend vote. They gathered enough signatures on a petition to force the company to consider a payout.

Huhndorf, a leading member of the Alliance, said shareholders could use the money in these tough economic times and that the company can well afford to pay the $63 million. Besides, CIRI has no investment plan, or if it does, it isn't telling anyone, Huhndorf said.

''CIRI has a lot of cash, and they haven't demonstrated to me that they have plans for it,'' he said. ''They have credibility problems, and the shareholders just don't believe them.''

CIRI's top executives, its chairman and Prosser insist that the regional corporation is mulling investment opportunities. The firm has large holdings in resort hotels, tourism, gaming, construction, oil and gas, some real estate and securities.

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